The New Restaurant

“Where the hell have you been,” seems to have been the pervasive emotion emanating from my various available channels of communication. For a good 17 days, I was not emailing, calling, chnepring, or available.  Minor facebooking occured, but I was seriously off the grid. 

In general, when people ask what I’m doing here, the usual response is, “I killed a connected man,”  but seriously: if I ever did need to get lost, Africa seems a like a good a place as any.  

I didn’t kill anyone.  

Ever.

But I am still alive.  

I was just opening the RCC, the new restaurant.  Two weeks ago, I got word from the COO that I’d be running a new project.  I reminded him that I was on a deadline from the CEO.  We decided to put our corporate chef on the gig, but he would only be here in a few days, and it was not a one man job for a number of reasons.  

1) We didn’t have a budget.  As in, it was a contract gig for a major international corporation but involved a third local party, and everyone pointing fingers. 

2) I was given 16 hours to get it going.  At first I handled it like I had handled many of our outside catering dealies: we trucked food in.  But that only made things more complicated and tied up too many resources.

3) It was intended to be a la carte. El Berkerino came in the following day and we set Monday as the goal to start full service dining at RCC.  

4) The kitchen was a bare room with three small sinks and a long stretch of counter space with no equipment (not a fridge not a freezer, not a stove) shitty MacBook frying electricity, and was piped with river water. 

5) We had no employees.  We stole a few eventually and hired some, but to start we had nothing. 

6)  It’s about 1km out of town.  That means like 20 minutes with these roads.  The only way we would be able to get people to come there was to provide the best food in town.

7) So on top of all this and the international cluster of the deal, mafi garush.  

We scrounged all over Juba for equipment and people and food.  There’s a sense of comraderie among our properties, but when a chef has only two chinois and gives you one, that’s sacrifice. We had chaffing dishes, cutlery, and crockery from the catering set up, found and trucked in a charcoal grill, a safari oven, ‘borrowed’ a soup terrine, a chest freezer, and a mini fridge, but had to have an electrician rewire everything for industrial surge protectors.

On monday we served lemon herb chicken with oven roasted potates and a soup and salad buffet.

Our luck changed drastically mid-week when we found a brand-new single-barrel fryer at the US consulate.  A day later we were serving the best fries in Juba.  Hell, we were making the best fries I’ve had in Africa, period.

The problem is two fold: grease temperature and starch levels in the potatoes.  The starchier the potatoes, the tougher it is to get them fluffy in the center.  The lower the grease temp, the more difficult it is to get them crispy.  All the potatoes I’ve worked with in africa are really, really starchy.  All the fries I’ve had have been really soggy because to get the fry to the right consistency the potatoes must be cooked for a really long time at a low heat. High heat woudl just result in a crispy outside and raw center. 

McDonalds makes their fries by frying them twice: once blanched in low heat, frozen, then flashed for service.   We do the same thing but three times, and end up with fries that are kind of like In-N-Out.  And we invented what may be the single greatest food ever created: Cheddar cheese sticks wrapped in bacon, beer battered and deep fried.  I call defribulators, or defribs, for short.

Not to mention that with my homemade BBQ sauce, we’ve the best wings this side of the Anchor Bar.  The icing on the cake is El Berkerino’s incredible ability in the kitchen.  Having worked in a James Beard nominated kitchen and on the line in a Todd English establishment, by week two we began putting out dishes like roasted chicken with soft parmesan polenta and a mediterranean olive relish, braised beef tips with a root vegetable cous cous, or citrus poached white fish and a coconut and avocado salsa, or pork leg and crackling with a peach chutney.

I mean, we’re not plating up seared duck breast with sweet breads and porcini demi glace or nothing, but this is some serious shite for Juba.  

Just don’t tell Buckshot.  He had the best game in town until we came along.      

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6 Responses to The New Restaurant

  1. intlxpatr says:

    Sounds like a great adventure, and sounds like you are having a lot of fun amidst the challenges, Hearto.

    Once, by accident, I ended up with deep fried sweet potato – do sweet potatoes grow in the Sudan? How do they rate for starch? Any other kinds of veggies that could make veggie chips?

    Just the sound of the food your cooking up is making me hungry! Well done!

  2. Sweet potatoes are usually starchier. The American orange-coloured sweet potatoes we know are much different to the pale African sweet potatoes.

    We haven’t tried em yet, but who knows?

    We do get fresh arrow root, a common ingriedient in veggie chips and we should be able to find some cassava, otherwise known as yuca as we can get beautiful beets and turnips so we plan to do some experimentation.

    El Berkerino brought a japanese mandolin (not to be confused with a bouzouki) with him which is a tool every kitchen should have, especially when frying. (http://www.kitchenconservatory.com/mandolin.htm)

    One day we did whole fresh green beans in a light soy-ginger egg batter, of course the classic onion ring, and lightly battered onion straws.

    Maybe we’ll get some tempura going. I dunno. We’re flying by the seat of our pants right now.

    It’s fun as hell.

  3. the mama says:

    Wow – sounds like the sweet south to me – fried is good! except for macs!

  4. Somavilla says:

    Whatever. You still win the award for most prolific Crimson Guardsman in the Terrordrome, including its illustrious leader.

    I’ve moved to Erie. Look me up if you’re ever passing through.

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